Italy’s World Cup hopefuls: Florenzi, Saponara & the players joining the battle for Brazil

The Azzurri will be heading for South America in 12 months time, but there are still opportunities for fringe players and wild cards to stake a claim for a place

By Kris Voakes

Italy entertain San Marino in Bologna on Friday night in an assignment which will ease them in gently ahead of a calendar which sees them head to the Czech Republic for a World Cup qualifier then board a plane to Brazil for the Confederations Cup.

But a year from now, things will be getting altogether more real. The final squads will be being announced for the World Cup, with anticipation building for the rather more nerve-wracking prospect of football’s biggest event by the day.

Cesare Prandelli could probably name around two-thirds of his 23-man playing staff for the World Cup right now if he was asked to, but the next 12 months will provide an opportunity for fringe players and outsiders to stake a real claim for a place on the plane heading for South America next June.

Below, Goal considers a number of players for potential selection next year out of the crop which have yet to start for the Azzurri in a competitive international.

FABIO BORINI (22, Attacker, Liverpool)

It is amazing what a difference a year makes. After making a significant impact with Roma in his first full season for the Giallorossi last term, Borini went to the Euro 2012 finals with Cesare Prandelli’s squad.

However, it is now 15 months since his one and only appearance for the Azzurri, an impressive substitute outing against the USA in Genoa, and injury has restricted him to only 10 league games in a Liverpool shirt since his €13.3 million switch last summer.

Should he rediscover his form on the right-hand side of attack in a thriving Reds side in 2013-14, there’s every chance the former Swansea and Parma striker could return to the national scene in time for the World Cup.

ALESSANDRO FLORENZI (22, Midfielder, Roma)

If Borini was the rising star for Roma in 2011-12, then there is no doubting who was the stand-out youngster of this season for the club. Florenzi hit the ground running from day one of the campaign to ensure that he played a big part in the capital club’s push for a top-six spot and the Coppa Italia final.

By the season’s end, his dynamic performances in midfield had become just as much a feature of Roma’s play as Daniele De Rossi’s ball-winning abilities or Francesco Totti’s inspiring efforts up front.

Able to play on either side of the midfield axis, his drive and energy are matched by great talent on the ball, giving him a versatility that could see him add a trip to the World Cup to the two friendly appearances he has picked up against France and the Netherlands over the past 12 months.

MANOLO GABBIADINI (21, Attacker, Juventus)

While Gabbiadini remains very much an outside shot for a trip to the World Cup, he could easily become a serious candidate with a big season in Serie A next time around.

Not particularly noted for his significant abilities in front of goal in Serie A – he scored just six times for Bologna in 2012-13 after one in 23 for Atalanta the season before – Gabbiadini has an excellent tally of 10 in 19 at Under-21 level.

If he can begin to marry his excellent qualities in the channel more regularly with a more mature approach to his all-round game and become more confident with the goal in his sights at club level, then there is still a chance he can make it to Brazil in 2014 with Cesare Prandelli’s squad.

LORENZO INSIGNE (21, Attacker, Napoli)

After playing 37 times for a Napoli side which finished second in Serie A in 2012-13, it seems amazing to note that Insigne has just 45 minutes under his belt at international level still. The fact that was a substitute appearance full of verve and creativity in a World Cup qualifier against Malta comes as a lesser surprise though.

Insigne’s magnificent attacking talent, harnessed well over the next 12 months, could see him become one of Italy’s key men at the World Cup. While it may be a stretch to suggest he could already be a first-choice pick 12 months from now, it has to be a consideration.

With Rafa Benitez having been handed the coaching position at the San Paolo, it is to be hoped that he will choose Insigne ahead of Goran Pandev more often than did Walter Mazzarri, just as the Spaniard was the only coach to give Philippe Coutinho a real chance at Inter.

NICOLA SANSONE (21, Attacker, Parma)

Sansone has become a key member of Roberto Donadoni’s Parma side over the past year, and another season of such impressive growth could see him become a real contender for an Italy shirt.

After spells with Bayern Munich II and Crotone, Sansone was a wild-card pick in many people’s eyes when Donadoni put his faith in him this term, but the attacking midfielder has made a significant impact in many of Parma’s most outstanding performances of 2012-13.

He notched up the impressive record of netting against Juventus, Milan and Inter, and also had a goalbound effort deflected in against Napoli, showing his thirst for making a mark on the big occasion. Another string of such performances at the U21 European Championship in Israel this summer could push him closer to an Azzurri debut.

RICCARDO SAPONARA (21, Attacker, Milan)

With not a single Serie A appearance to his name thus far, Saponara remains a real long-shot for a World Cup place at this stage, but a glance across to new team-mate Stephan El Shaarawy at Milan’s 2013-14 photo call will surely give him the belief that he can make a huge impact with the Rossoneri and Italy too.

Once a jobbing winger at both club and youth international level, Saponara has been switched into a central attacking midfield role at Empoli to magnificent effect, securing him a move to Milan in January. Known to many as the ‘Kaka of Serie B’, the thought of heading for his idol’s homeland for the World Cup remains a dream scenario at this stage.

But he can be encouraged by Cesare Prandelli’s handling of the likes of El Shaarawy and others, knowing that an impressive start to life in the top flight could be granted immediate reward at international level.

MARCO VERRATTI (20, Midfielder, Paris Saint-Germain)

A 16-year-old debutant in the third tier, 17-year-old regular in Serie B and then 19-year-old mega-money purchase for one of the world’s richest clubs, Verratti seems destined for super-stardom.

His astonishing rise has been one of the feel good stories on the peninsula over the last couple of years, while many believe that his transfer to Paris Saint-Germain marks a missed opportunity on the part of Italian football to make a statement about its ability to retain its top talents in the domestic game.

With an unparalleled awareness of the game among others his age, Verratti is being earmarked as the natural heir to Andrea Pirlo, and should the Juventus man suffer an injury or loss of form between now and next June, the PSG midfielder will surely be the first Prandelli will turn to. He already has a goal to his name in his Azzurri career too, grabbing a late equaliser against the Netherlands in one of three friendly appearances thus far.

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